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Florida's foreclosure rate highest in U.S. in 2012

Published Jan. 17, 2013

Florida is still suffering beneath a deluge of home foreclosures, leading the nation with the highest state foreclosure rate of 2012, research firm RealtyTrac reported today.

One in 32 homes in the Sunshine State faced foreclosure last year, more than double the national average. That equates to nearly 280,000 homes receiving a notice of default, bank auction or repossession.

Though statewide home sales are up and prices are on the rise, the widespread glut of unpaid mortgages continues to beat back a full recovery.

Florida wrested the top dishonor from Nevada, which had posted the highest state foreclosure rate for five years in a row, RealtyTrac vice president Daren Blomquist said. Nevada had the second-highest rate last year and Arizona came in third.

Foreclosure filings last year in Florida swelled 50 percent over 2011, likely due to banks moving forward on more foreclosures after a temporary freeze related to the "robo-signing" scandal. Foreclosures, Blomquist said, could increase again as banks finish "catching up" with long rosters of distressed loans.

In many cases, court backlogs and faulty bank filings have drawn out foreclosures through years of delays. RealtyTrac reported a typical Florida foreclosure lasts more than 28 months, four times as long as in 2007.

Tampa Bay's rate of foreclosure rose from 1.8 percent in 2011 to 3.2 percent last year. That remained well below its peak in 2010, when 4.9 percent of all local homes faced foreclosure.

Buyers and investors say pushing foreclosures through the pipeline frees homes up for new owners to make repairs, sell or rent. More than 750 foreclosed homes in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties were scheduled for auction this week alone.

Those foreclosed homes, which are sometimes abandoned, tend to drag down neighborhood values. Last year, the typical bank-owned home in Tampa Bay sold for $90,000 less than a nondistressed home, Multiple Listing Service data show.

About 40 percent of Florida homeowners with a mortgage owe more than their home is worth, research firm CoreLogic estimates. Rising prices in 2012, however, helped more than 700,000 "underwater" homeowners resurface.

But the shaky economy, stagnant wages and high rates of unemployment and underemployment remain obstacles for distressed borrowers seeking to save their home. In November, one in five Florida mortgages was late on payments, data from Jacksonville-based Lender Processing Services show.

"These people, they've been out of work, unemployment's run out, and they haven't been able to find work for several years," said John Borland, a Clearwater staff attorney for Gulfcoast Legal Services. "I don't see things turning around. I see them static, or getting worse."

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8252.

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